The Biggest Mistake I Made During Hourly America

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biggest mistake

After finishing all 50 states, people often ask Heath and I if we ever thought about quitting. “Was there ever a moment where you wanted to give up and just go home,” they ask.

Yes. There was one day when we just couldn’t do it anymore. This is that story.

Have you ever visited the Midwest? I can save you the trouble by telling you there’s like ten states of nothing except for corn fields. And in August, it’s 100 degrees with stifling humidity everywhere you go, unless a storm of tornadoes passes through. That drops the temperature down a bit all whilst endangering your life. A simpler way to describe the midwest would be terrible. The midwest is terrible.

Early in August of 2014, back in South Dakota, a huge lightning storm descended on our RV. Heath and I took shelter at the RV park, sprinting through the rain toward the bathhouse. Lightning lit the entire sky as if it were day. Thunder roared, rain pounded the ground creating rivers through the park. I thought Texas thunderstorms were intense, but they have nothing on this South Dakota storm.

When the storm calmed after half an hour or so and we could return to our RV, we found the microwave blinking 00:00, the international sign for something trippy happened with the electricity. Our refrigerator didn’t work, our coffeepot was off, some of the lights wouldn’t turn on. We started freaking out a little, flipping switches on electrical boxes trying to figure out the problem. Plus, it was 10:00 pm and if we couldn’t figure out how to get the coffee pot working, we would never survive the next morning.

And it was a rough morning. When we hit the road that day, we discovered two more problems: our leveling jacks weren’t working and our generator wouldn’t turn over. Later that afternoon, we finally found the switch that was flipped by the lightning and restored power to our beloved coffee pot and refrigerator. But our jacks and generator weren’t working still and I swear, our lights were all dimmer.

For the next two weeks as we traveled across the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois, rain and thunderstorms pounded poor Franklin. We quickly discovered a leak in the middle of the living room roof and constantly kept a bowl and a towel on the floor, which we often tripped over spilling the rain water we were collecting.

It was great.

But it gets even better.

In Iowa, we struggled to find a job. We called companies in multiple different cities (“city” is a relative term in Iowa), but no one was open to an hourly worker and a camerawoman. Days passed. Still, no one would hire us. Eventually, finally, after we had discussed at length the possibility of only working a job in 49 states, an older gentleman agreed to let us work at his barbecue joint.

Well, really it was a biker bar. But we wouldn’t realize that until we showed up.

Now, Heath and I often refuse the question “What was the worst job?” We’re diplomatic like that. We usually say, “well the hardest job was working as a martial arts dojo” and then we tell a story about Heath getting kicked in the chest by a third-degree black belt (I’ll show you the video sometime, Heath flies backward across the room, it’s hilarious).

But if I had to choose the worst day of work, I’d choose this job in Iowa.

The night before our shift, a huge system of thunderstorms pushed through, waking Heath and I up just before midnight. We were staying in a county park next to a lake just north of Omaha. The park was filled with large trees that provided us with beautiful shade earlier that afternoon that made the summer heat bearable, but now as we felt the wind shake the RV on its tires, we seriously worried about a branch crashing down on the roof of our home.

We didn’t have internet at this county park, so we used Heath’s lightning cast app to watch the thunderstorms pass through for hours. Little red zig zags blip on the screen in real time, showing you exactly where the lightning is hitting. The little blue GPS dot that showed our location was surrounded by little red zig zags. We lost power a few times.

We opened the blinds on all our windows and could see standing water all around the RV. We worried that the lake shore, a couple hundred feet away, might flood. Multiple times throughout the night, we contemplated taking shelter, but the nearest building was too far to run to with the intensity of the lightning. All we could do was pray that lightning would choose a different RV or tree to strike in the park.

The rain poured for the next four hours and the lightning never let up. If you’ve never been in an RV during a thunderstorm, I should tell you that it gets loud when it rains. It sounds more like being pelted with hail than just rain drops. Even more petrifying is the sonic boom of thunder following the electric crash of lightning that couldn’t be an inch farther than a tenth of a mile away, if that.

Sometime well after four am, we finally drifted off to sleep while the rain still poured and the lightning still flashed. We didn’t wake up until around noon, when we then had to rush off to this job. We showed up exhausted and unenthused, except for the idea of free barbecue, which is always cause for excitement.

The friendly, but eccentric owner showed us around and got Heath to work in the kitchen. Everything in the kitchen felt and looked dirty. Not like when you made dinner and leave some dishes on the counter dirty, but genuine dirt and grime and germs dirty. In between yawns, I kept anxiously glancing around expecting to see cockroaches running across the floor.

To top it off, they microwaved their food. I’m no chef, but I know that’s not cooking. The cook on staff–there was only one–shared her horror stories of working in the restaurant industry and subtly told us how her soul dies a little bit at her current job. She used to work at the higher end restaurants in town and now worked at a greasy spoon. The most redemptive part of the shift was capturing her stories, hearing about her life.

We walked away from that shift quietly, trying to refrain from complaining about the restaurant. Hearing the cook’s stories brought a new angle to our documentary. What if we focused our film on not only sharing the stories of hourly workers, but also shared stories like hers of how she is disrespected because of her position. What if after watching our documentary, we could teach people how to treat those in the service industry better?

We kept these questions in mind when we went to our next job in Nebraska the very next morning–our first time to work two jobs two days in a row. Once again exhausted, we ran through more pouring down rain to work at a distillery. Heath spent the morning and afternoon bottling vodka and cleaning up the facilities. Stocking drinks. Washing dishes. It was a typical day. During the day, we had the chance to interview an hourly worker, plus the owner of the company. Both interviews went really well and we had great footage from the day.

We ended up leaving our shift that day early because we were so tired. Before we even got to the RV park, our contact at Snagajob called and asked if we were still working because a local tv news crew was about to head our way to interview us for the evening news. Heath and I didn’t even think about turning around to go back for the publicity. The midwest had taken our excitement about Hourly America and crushed us into two sweaty, apathetic kids who just wanted one night of peaceful sleep uninterrupted by thunderstorms. (I may be exaggerating a little bit here. Lazy might be another word to describe us.)

As soon as we got to the RV park, Heath collapsed on the bed telling me to let him just nap for an hour. I turned on a movie and worked on dumping all of our footage from the past two days of filming. That was our first time to ever work jobs on back-to-back days, so I hadn’t had a chance to copy all of yesterday’s footage from the biker bar to our hard drive.

I imported all of the footage onto Heath’s computer while I used my computer to back-up our primary hard drive to one that we would ship to Snagajob for safe keeping. Having two sets of footage in two different states seemed like the safest, smartest thing I could’ve been doing. It takes a little time to transfer so many files, so I laid on the couch and watched my movie while the computers worked their magic.

A friendly window popped up on Heath’s computer saying “Import complete.” Since our hard drive was occupied, I couldn’t immediately copy the footage from Heath’s computer onto the hard drive. (It’s a complicated, time consuming process if you’ve never dealt with importing and backing up video files before.) With the footage from the jobs safely imported into Heath’s computer, I deleted the files off of the flash cards and put them back into the cameras, the way I normally would.

Can you see where this is going?

But you see, I had never imported footage on Heath’s computer before. I usually used mine, since I have a better computer than he does. So what I didn’t know what that Heath’s computer was out of storage space. He has 20% of the storage capacity of my computer. So when I opened the latest import folder in Heath’s photos, nothing was there. Nothing. Two days of footage. GONE.

I searched everywhere in his computer’s files. Nothing. I plugged in the flash drives from the camera to see if somehow the footage was still there, but it was gone too. Why did I delete it before backing it up to the hard drive? I must be insane. A faint memory of Heath telling me weeks earlier that he ran out of space came to mind. He had tried to import photos and something popped up saying the import couldn’t be completed because he was out of space.

I did not seem to receive the same gracious pop up before I completely deleted two full days of work.

At this point, I’m freaking out, in case you can’t tell. I walk into the bedroom and sit on the bed next to Heath, scratching his back. Trying to break the news gently and all.



“I made a mistake. I need your help.”

“What’s wrong?”

“I deleted all of our footage from the past two jobs.”

I’ve never seen a more effective alarm clock than those words. He flew out of bed like a pop tart from a toaster. Heath searched his computer, looking everywhere to uncover the footage. But it was gone for good.

After telling me it was okay and saying comforting things that I could tell he didn’t really mean because in all reality he was really pissed and said my bad news could’ve at least waited until after his nap, Heath pulled out his phone and said a few fateful words.

“If we leave right now, we can make it to your parents’ house by 2 am.”

The nine hour drive took us a little over 12 hours, but we pulled into my parents’ driveway just before the sunrise. We drove all night taking a few breaks at gas stations and truck stops to rest our eyes, but since our generator wasn’t working from that first storm in South Dakota and it was late summer, we couldn’t turn on the electricity to run the air conditioning and it was stifling 95 degrees in the RV.

And that, that was the only time we felt like quitting. I was sick to stomach after losing our footage. It was a costly mistake, especially after the quality of the interviews we had during those two days. For the past year, I just kept telling myself that those weren’t our best days of footage anyway, so if I was going to lose any footage, the midwest footage was the lesser of evils. The storms and the RV trouble were just icing on the cake of a rough August.

But, we powered through and pushed on through September (also known as the month where our fridge blew up and we ran out of money, more good times).

We didn’t quit. We didn’t give up. We kept filming and kept going, and it’s a good thing we did too.

Because this morning, Heath waltzed into the RV with a startling discovery.

Last week, I updated his computer for him. He hadn’t updated the OS in months since he had no storage, so I offloaded some of his files so he could update his mac with the new iTunes and iPhoto.

And this morning as he scrolled through his iPhoto, there it was, in all it’s glory.

After a year. After we looked through every file on his computer multiple times. Even after I uploaded all of the photos and videos from Hourly America from his computer into my Amazon prime account.

All of our footage from those two days of work. Restored. Unwatched. Just waiting for us.

I have no idea where it was hiding, or how it disappeared and reappeared, but now it’s back and I’m not going to question it. Now we officially have footage from 50 jobs in 50 states.

I can’t imagine how I would feel in this moment if we quit. If we let my mistake ruin our journey. If we let my failure (plus the detestable-ness that is the midwest) determine our future.

Sometimes that’s the first instinct. When you make a big mistake, it’s scary to step out and try again. Quitting, or running home to mommy in our case, is easier. But if you don’t power through, you’ll miss out on making something remarkable.

Moral of the story: Don’t let your failures keep you from reaching your dream because you just might find that one year later all the footage was right there in front of you the WHOLE FREAKING TIME.

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